Electronic Weapons: November 23, 1999


The US Air Force used towed ALE-50 decoys extensively over Kosovo and Serbia, and they were on more than one occasion successful in distracting anti-aircraft weapons away from F-16s and B-1Bs. The Air Force is now experimenting with more advanced towed decoys. Key challenges include finding a tether that is strong enough to drag the decoy through advanced combat maneuvers, and designing a low-drag decoy shape that will not slow down the plane.--Stephen V Cole

A Pentagon study group is expected to issue a report early next year favoring the conversion of some F-18Fs into F-18G Growler aerial jammer aircraft. These will replace EA-6B Prowlers on carrier decks, leaving those jammer planes to support other operations. The normal attrition rate on the EA-6B will leave that force without enough aircraft for the current level of missions by 2006. The F-18G will retain the internal systems of the F-18F, as well as two Sidewinder and two AMRAAM missiles for self-defense. The AMRAAMs could be replaced by HARMs or Joint Stand-Off Weapons to attack ground -based air defenses. New receivers will be added to the wingtips, and the three pods of the ALQ-99 jammer system will be mounted under the center of the aircraft and each wing. With only one man to operate the jammers, the F-18G would be less effective, but only marginally so. Having the jammers use a common airframe with the strike aircraft will mean simplified maintenance and the ability of the jammers to stick with the strike formation. Being able to defend itself, the Growler will not need an aerial fighter escort. In the future, the Pentagon expects that the aerial jamming operation will be spread across several aircraft (including UAVs) and controlled by relatively few electronic warfare operators using datalinks. Some jammer pods might well be carried by strike aircraft themselves (operated by remote control), increasing the total jamming wattage that can be transmitted. --Stephen V Cole

Tests of the Miniature Air-Launched Decoy at Nellis have caused a wave of excitement in the Air Force, which wants to start buying the systems right away (i.e., in 2002). Tests at the Nellis AFB range could not distinguish between an F-16 and a MALD. The original Air Force plan was to buy 1,500 MALDs, but budget problems may limit this to 1,500 (driving the price up to $60,000 each). A variant of the missile, the Miniature Air Launched Interceptor, will be used to kill cruise missiles. This version will have a datalink as well as a modified engine allowing brief periods of supersonic flight. These improvements might be retrofitted to MALD.--Stephen V Cole

Aircraft have used flares to distract heat-seeking missiles since the Vietnam War, but will soon have new kinds of flares to defend themselves. Joining the standard flare will be the new MJU-50B, a device that emits heat but no light. This device was originally intended for covert operations aircraft that did not want to give away their positions with a brightly burning flare. The MJU-50B completed testing in October and should reach the front lines by Spring. The Navy version will be the MJU-27B, designed to fit Navy flare dispensers. Most exciting, however, is the MJU-47B, which is basically a small and very hot rocket. Designated as a kinematic system, the MJU-47B will actually fly ahead of the fighter that launched it. Fighters in future may carry all three types, dropping one of each when a missile is approaching. If all are set for different parts of the infrared spectrum, they would assure that the missile would be distracted. --Stephen V Cole

The US decided in 1997 to proceed with a program to develop a smarter version of the AGM-88 HARM (High speed Anti-Radiation Missile, the primary weapon used against enemy ground-based radars). Germany and Italy each bought into the program for 30.5%. A decision on production is not expected until 2003, but the Kosovo War has shown that this weapon is needed and, at least, development started two years ago.--Stephen V Cole

The US Army has been working for some time on a new signals intelligence and jamming system known as Prophet. The aerial component was to have been carried on a UH-60 BlackHawk that would eventually be supplemented by and then replaced by a UAV. (A division would have four EH-60 Prophets and two UAVs in its Military Intelligence Battalion.) Lessons of the Kosovo War, however, have shown that the UAV is a better idea. It is more reliable and can stay on station three times as long. The Army is now moving to get the Prophet technology into its Hunter UAVs as quickly as possible, even though it knows that such a rush program will be less than it should be and will require later upgrades.--Stephen V Cole

The Army has formally begun the process of picking a new airborne intelligence-gathering aircraft to replace the RC-12 Guardrail and the RC-17 Airborne Recon Low aircraft. Contractors have been asked to bid on contracts to develop a concept for the new system. While this will include picking an airframe, the Army insists that the Aerial Common Sensor program is an intelligence system project and not an aircraft project. They want an off-the-shelf design, probably based on an existing business plane. The first planes could be flying in 2009, although the desired full capability may not come along until several years later.--Stephen V Cole




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